Suit Alleges 1954-68 Convent Abuse

By Alexis Huicochea
Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)
April 7, 2005

A 52-year-old woman filed a lawsuit against Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Wednesday alleging numerous incidents of physical abuse, sexual abuse and illegal restraint.

The alleged incidents took place between 1954 and 1968, the lawsuit said.

Mary Ann Shelton, who know lives in Illinois, was placed at the Tucson convent in 1954 by her mother as a way to ease financial burden, the lawsuit said.

Her mother hoped that Shelton, then Mary Ann Mallas, would have a religious and moral upbringing, and get an education, the lawsuit said. However, she became an "indentured servant," her attorney, Ivan Abrams, said in a telephone interview. "She was a cleaning servant and a sex slave," he said. "She was chained and held in a hidden room."

Shelton's status at the convent was similar to that of a foster child, the lawsuit said. The nuns took custody of Shelton and the mother agreed not to interfere in decisions regarding Shelton's welfare, the suit said.

The mistreatment Shelton suffered included rape, sodomy, repeated beatings, food and water deprivation and psychological abuse, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Superior Court.

"Mary Ann was raised to be devout and faithful Catholic and she was told that if she said anything about what was going on, she would burn in hell, and she believed them," Abrams said.

In 1968, Shelton's mother removed her from the order's custody, but she did not reveal the abuse, the lawsuit said.

Because of threats that were made against her, she repressed the memories of abuse. However, through therapy, she has begun to deal with what happened, the lawsuit said.

The suit names 16 individuals, including 10 nuns and four priests. Two others named as defendants are listed as Jane and John Doe.

The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church. It is not part of the Catholic Diocese of Tucson.

Two of the priests named in Shelton's lawsuit, the Rev. Floyd Stromberg and the Rev. Claudio Riol, have been previously identified by the diocese as having credible allegations of sexual abuse involving minors filed against them, the diocese's Web site said.

Stromberg was suspended from the ministry in July 2002 after the allegations were made. Diocese officials have previously said they do not know the whereabouts of Riol or even if he is alive.

Officials of the Immaculate Heart order, which operates three schools on the Northwest Side, could not be reached for comment. The lawsuit does not involve the three schools operated by the order. Shelton lived with the order at its former facility in Downtown Tucson.

Abrams said he believe most of the nuns named in the lawsuit are deceased.


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